Cover image for The sorrow of Belgium
The sorrow of Belgium
Claus, Hugo, 1929-2008.
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Verdriet van België. English
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pantheon Books, [1990]

Physical Description:
ix, 608 pages ; 25 cm
General Note:
Translation of: Het verdriet van België.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



A classic novel in the tradition of The Tin Drum, The Sorrow of Belgium is a searing, scathingly funny portrait of a wartime Belgium and one boy's coming of age -- emotionally, sexually, and politically. In 1939, Louis Seynaeve, a ten-year-old Flemish student, is chiefly occupled with schoolboy adventures and lurid adolescent fantasies. Then the Nazis invade Belgium, and he grows up fast. Bewildered by his family -- a stuffy father who actually welcomes the occupation and a flirtatious mother who works for (and plays with) the Germans -- he is seemingly at the center of so much he can't understand. Gradually, as he confronts the horrors of the war and its aftermath, the eccentric and often petty behavior of his colorful relatives and neighbors, and his own inner turmoil, he achieves a degree of maturity -- at the cost of deep disillusion. Epic in scope, by turns hilarious and elegiac, The Sorrow of Belgium is the masterwork by one of the world's greatest contemporary authors. Book jacket.

Author Notes

Author and artist Hugo Claus was born in Bruges, Belgium in 1929. While in Paris, in his early twenties, he explored surrealism, existentialism, and modernism as a member of the Cobra group of experimentalist artists. Later in Rome he concerned himself with filmmaking and actually produced a film called Friday for which he wrote the script himself.

He can be regarded as the primary developer of a technique which has become known as intertextuality. Its application in The Sign of the Hamster led to accusations of plagiarism, an accusation which many critics rejected because of the recognizability of the references which vary from the classics to the Middle Ages and his own time.

He gained recognition as painter, poet, playwright, filmmaker, and writer of classical, psychological, modernist, and experimentalist novels. His best known work is The Sorrow of Belgium. The book consists of two parts, the first strongly autobiographic, situated in a Roman Catholic boarding school in Belgium, from which Louis, the protagonist, is expelled. The second part describes the experiences of a large number of people, including Louis's mother and father, during and shortly after World War II.

He was charged with blasphemy for the play Masscheroen because of his irreverent representation of the Holy Trinity on the stage. This charge and the possibility of plagiarism identify Claus as a controversial writer. He died by euthanasia in Antwerp, Belgium on March 19, 2008.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Belgium on the brink of World War II is the setting for 10-year-old Louis' tragicomic coming-of-age. The sexual, emotional, and political details ring true as Louis struggles through classes, annoys his family, and filters the gruesome historical record through his adolescent eyes. The advent of Nazi occupation, however, dims even Louis' antically carefree nature, as the reality of the German Reich and war itself becomes brutally evident. Claus bounces his narrative from rollicking realism to frightening symbolism and back again without so much as a wave of the hand, making his richly detailed story a bit less easygoing than might appear at first glance. --John Brosnahan

Library Journal Review

As the war rages and ebbs in occupied Belgium between 1939 and 1947, Louis is struggling through the trials of adolescence. Knowledge in all its forms is his personal battleground as he moves from the sheltered world of the convent school to the chaos of death, internment, and reunification. His family, staunchly Flemish, collaborates willingly with the Germans. His pompous father hints at Gestapo connections, his bored mother blossoms in her new responsibility for German munitions, and the rest of his extended family lies enthralled by Nazi ``discipline and order.'' Laced through everything is the constant tension between the Flemish and French linguistic and cultural traditions. Claus's well-written novel of discovery is a fine depiction of life under occupation that offers American readers a fresh perspective of events during the war. While its innovative structure makes for some tedious moments, it finally succeeds through its careful attention to Louis's changing awareness in a dynamic time.-- Paul E. Hutchison, Fishermans Paradise, Bellefonte, Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Translator's Notep. vii
Part 1 The Sorrowp. 1
The visitp. 3
Hearing and seeingp. 15
Mary the cowp. 25
Sister st. gerolphep. 29
Olibriusp. 37
Concerning another childp. 41
The mizzlersp. 49
Martyrsp. 57
Wallep. 65
Grandmap. 80
The moosep. 91
Uncle florentp. 100
Uncle robertp. 107
The land of smilesp. 115
A small cudgelp. 124
The scapularp. 130
Reconnaissancep. 136
A golden knucklebonep. 139
His vile facep. 148
Bastegemp. 157
Uncle armandp. 180
A carpenterp. 185
Meerkep. 192
God's great outdoorsp. 196
A fig leafp. 203
Sister chillyp. 208
A shameful yellow basketp. 219
Part 2 Of Belgiump. 233
Glossaryp. 605